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"This Connection of Everyone:" Beyond a Patriotric "Spirit of Unity"

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Abstract:

Video footage taken during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City, captures this scene: a man sits in the shadow of the smoldering north tower of the World Trade Center, listening for news of what has just happened to the building behind him. As he listens, the second plane flies into the south tower; the man looks up and runs from the camera’s frame. Scholars citing this footage (Lurie; Sherman & Nardin, 2006) have noted the man’s “traumatized spectatorship,” the sudden move he makes from spectator to victim. My own interest here, however, is in what comes before this move: simply, a man listens for news of a crisis he is, in fact, right in the middle of. I would suggest that this man, mirroring millions of others fixed to their own radios or televisions on the morning of 9/11, is, throughout the whole video, spectator and victim simultaneously. Through him, these roles, so often considered dichotomous, are conflated.

My paper posits that 9/11 changed the way we understand relations of the roles of spectator and victim. While scholars have previously offered terms for understanding secondary trauma (Hirsch, Kaplan, Landsberg, Laub, and Sontag all discuss, from different disciplines, how spectators can be traumatized into victimhood), I am interested here in what happens when victims also become spectators. In a 2003 essay on the possibility of a transnational identity through suffering, Eva Illouz cites Hannah Arendt to say that there will always be an “intrinsic asymmetry between the sufferer and the one who gives pity.” Critics writing specifically about 9/11, however, have noted the symmetry that did indeed arise among those traditionally called “spectators” and those called “victims.” Writing about American solidarity after 9/11, Norman Solomon quotes Oprah magazine’s cover story in the last months of 2001, beginning, “Our vision of family has been expanded. From the ashes of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and that field in Pennsylvania arose a new spirit of unity.” Is this “spirit of unity” a renewed form of patriotism–certainly Illouz did not find such a spirit among transnational relationships–or are different sorts of connections being made here?

My project takes up questions of shifts in relations of victims and spectators, transformations of sufferers, and suffering as a means of national identity. I nuance these questions by studying post 9/11 literary works that seem to engage with them. Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of a young boy tracing connections among everyone named “Black” in New York City. Juliana Spahr’s collection of poetry, This Connection of Everyone with Lungs unites its characters through shared air. Canadian poet, Anne Simpson’s sonnet sequence, “Seven Paintings by Brueghel,” is a kind of möbius strip, constantly linking back onto itself. What can these metaphorical “connections” say about the experience of suffering in the 21st century?
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Name: The American Studies Association
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MLA Citation:

Luger, Moberley. ""This Connection of Everyone:" Beyond a Patriotric "Spirit of Unity"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186513_index.html>

APA Citation:

Luger, M. , 2007-10-11 ""This Connection of Everyone:" Beyond a Patriotric "Spirit of Unity"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186513_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Video footage taken during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City, captures this scene: a man sits in the shadow of the smoldering north tower of the World Trade Center, listening for news of what has just happened to the building behind him. As he listens, the second plane flies into the south tower; the man looks up and runs from the camera’s frame. Scholars citing this footage (Lurie; Sherman & Nardin, 2006) have noted the man’s “traumatized spectatorship,” the sudden move he makes from spectator to victim. My own interest here, however, is in what comes before this move: simply, a man listens for news of a crisis he is, in fact, right in the middle of. I would suggest that this man, mirroring millions of others fixed to their own radios or televisions on the morning of 9/11, is, throughout the whole video, spectator and victim simultaneously. Through him, these roles, so often considered dichotomous, are conflated.

My paper posits that 9/11 changed the way we understand relations of the roles of spectator and victim. While scholars have previously offered terms for understanding secondary trauma (Hirsch, Kaplan, Landsberg, Laub, and Sontag all discuss, from different disciplines, how spectators can be traumatized into victimhood), I am interested here in what happens when victims also become spectators. In a 2003 essay on the possibility of a transnational identity through suffering, Eva Illouz cites Hannah Arendt to say that there will always be an “intrinsic asymmetry between the sufferer and the one who gives pity.” Critics writing specifically about 9/11, however, have noted the symmetry that did indeed arise among those traditionally called “spectators” and those called “victims.” Writing about American solidarity after 9/11, Norman Solomon quotes Oprah magazine’s cover story in the last months of 2001, beginning, “Our vision of family has been expanded. From the ashes of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and that field in Pennsylvania arose a new spirit of unity.” Is this “spirit of unity” a renewed form of patriotism–certainly Illouz did not find such a spirit among transnational relationships–or are different sorts of connections being made here?

My project takes up questions of shifts in relations of victims and spectators, transformations of sufferers, and suffering as a means of national identity. I nuance these questions by studying post 9/11 literary works that seem to engage with them. Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of a young boy tracing connections among everyone named “Black” in New York City. Juliana Spahr’s collection of poetry, This Connection of Everyone with Lungs unites its characters through shared air. Canadian poet, Anne Simpson’s sonnet sequence, “Seven Paintings by Brueghel,” is a kind of möbius strip, constantly linking back onto itself. What can these metaphorical “connections” say about the experience of suffering in the 21st century?

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